Ugo da CARPI: Sacrificio del patriarca Abraham - ca. 1514-1515



[The Sacrifice of Abraham]

Woodcut, 800 x 1200 mm. J. D. Passavant no. 3; D. Rosand & M. Muraro cat. no. 3A; C. Karpinski 3rd state (of 6); J. Rapp 4th edition (of 8) (only one impression of each of the first three editions is known).

The print consists of four joined sheets printed from four separate woodblocks engraved by Ugo da Carpi. His name UGO is engraved in the upper right woodblock, on a leaf to the left of Abraham’s foot.

Fine impression of the 4th edition (of 8 according to J. Rapp) printed on laid paper.

Extremely rare. Bookseller Robin Halwas, who recently presented a restored impression of this 4th edition, noted that “the last impression seen on the market was sold by C.G. Boerner in 1933 (Auktion 183, lot 1088).”

In 1976, David Rosand and Michelangelo Muraro listed five different editions of Abraham’s Sacrifice (Titian and the Venetian Woodcut, p. 55). The same year, Caroline Karpinski listed six of them in ‘Some woodcuts after early designs of Titian’ (in Zeitschrift für Kunstgeschichte 39 (1976), pp. 258-259 (note 4)). In 1994, Jürgen Rapp counted eight editions (« Tizians frühestes Werk : der Großholzschnitt ‘Das Opfer Abrahams’ » in Pantheon Internationale Zeitschrift für Kunst 52, pp. 43-61). In his study of Abraham’s Sacrifice on his website, Robin Halwas describes all eight editions and lists known impressions.

None of the eight editions is dated. For some editions, only one copy is known, or sometimes only a fragment of an impression. The chronology of the different editions was established based mainly on alterations on the woodblocks and on successive versions of the text engraved in the title cartouche at the top of the upper left sheet.

The first known edition, for which the only remaining impression is in the Staatliche Museen in Berlin (see description), has the names of the author, Ugo da Carpi, and of the printer, Bernardino Benalio, in the cartouche: In Uenetia per Ugo da carpi | Stampata per Bernardino | benalio: Cu[m] priuilegio, ɔ[on]cesso | per lo Illustrissimo Senato. | Sul ca[m]po desan Stephano. The ‘privilege’ mentioned here is the one obtained by Bernardino Benalio on 9 February 1515, for three books and some prints, among which the hystoria del sacrifitio de abraham. 1515 is thus the latest date for the creation of the print. It is generally suggested that the print was started in 1514, or even earlier.

On impressions from the second and third editions (out of eight according to J. Rapp), the name Ugo da Carpi has been erased, while the name of Benalio’s nephew, Bartolomeo Bianzago, has been added to the privilege. R. Halwas suggests that this second edition, of which only one copy is known, might have been printed around 1520-1527 (Gotha, Museen der Stadt, Schlossmuseum, Inv.-Nr. G76, 1). Similarly only one incomplete impression is known for the third edition (Chatsworth, Devonshire Collection, IV, 73 n.97) (references by Robin Halwas).

On impressions from the fourth edition, of which the print we present here is one, the entire text has been erased from the cartouche and replaced with the title: Sacrificio del patriarca Abraham. Robin Halwas dates this edition to 1546-1549, “shortly after the death of Bernardino Benalio, and a presumed sale of his shop materials”. R. Halwas adds: “He must have died before 8 August 1546, which is the date on a document identifying his wife as a widow (‘Elisabetta vedova de Bernardino de Benalio stampatore’) in Archivio di Stato di Venezia, Procurator Nobili, Busta 15, folio 143 recto (Witcombe, op. cit., p.106). Another multi-block woodcut named in Benalio’s 9 February 1515 privilege, ‘la submersione di pharaon’ (Submersion of the Pharaoh’s Army in the Red Sea), was reprinted with the address of Domenico dalle Greche in 1549. It could be that all the blocks in the Benalio shop were sold shortly after his death.”

Robin Halwas lists ten impressions from this fourth edition, two of which are incomplete. Eight of them are in museums: Bergamo (see description), Berlin, Boston (see description), Copenhagen, Hamburg (see descriptions), London (see description), Paris (see image) and Vienna; another two impressions are mentioned in auction catalogues (Leipzig, 1864 and 1933).

The name of Titian is present in the cartouche of the fifth, sixth and seventh editions. Jürgen Rapp mentioned the difficulty of classifying editions after the fourth one with any degree of certainty, especially because he had not been able to examine some of the impressions. We adopt here the same order as Robin Halwas. Titian’s name is mentioned as the author on impressions of the fifth edition: Sagrificio del Patriarca | Abramo | Del celebre Tiziano (R. Halwas lists 7 impressions). In the sixth edition, an address is added at the bottom of the print: In Verona per gli Eredi di Marco Moroni (3 impressions). Robin Halwas mentions that this publisher started in business around 1760. On the only known impression from the seventh edition, the name Tiziano is the only text in the cartouche. On the two known impressions of the eighth and last edition, the cartouche is empty.

Successive editions show damage to the woodblocks over time. From the fourth edition onwards, the print is narrower by 3cm, as a slim strip has been removed from each side on the outside edge of the woodblocks, and a new borderline has been added. The fourth edition also shows some wormholes, as well as a horizontal crack in the bottom right part, where the shepherd’s foot is. This crack resulted in the loss of a horizontal strip of print, of approximately 3cm, at the bottom of the plate in later editions. Impressions from the last edition are printed from very worn and damaged woodblocks.

Our impression is from the fourth edition. It is in good condition overall, apart from some minor restorations: two small print losses (17 x 40 mm and 10 x 65 mm) restored and retouched in ink along the upper edge, as well as at the tip of the bottom right angle and at the tip of the top left angle; and a dozen tears that have been restored along the edges (5 to 80 mm). It is worth noting that cracks in the woodblocks or paler shadows have not been retouched in ink, as is the case on other impressions from the 4th edition. The four sheets have been backed with very thin japan paper and put together again.

These defects in conservation are common in monumental, large-size prints. Thus the impression kept in Hamburg shows large tears, numerous touch-ups in ink, as well as small losses in the subject, which necessitated doubling at an early date. Some impressions show ample retouching in ink, in order to recreate contrasts and shadows (Hamburg, Boston, Robin Halwas), to hide certain defects, and sometimes, to replace or even invent a missing part (as in the lower left corner of the impression sold by Robin Halwas, in which Abraham’s right leg differs from the original).

That Abraham’s Sacrifice has known numerous editions attests to the success it enjoyed over a long period. Remaining impressions however are very rare, not only because of the usual fragility of such large-size prints, but also because of the specific way in which they were used. In their study of monumental prints (Grand Scale - Monumental Prints in the Age of Dürer and Titian) published in 2008, Larry Silver and Elizabeth Wyckoff explain that these large prints were often used as wall hangings, because they were less costly than paintings or tapestries. The poor conservation conditions of these prints, on the walls of private homes or of public or religious buildings, unfortunately resulted in their damage or loss.

As for impressions kept in collections, they were often folded, for example to be glued in albums, or rolled up. That is the case for some very large prints in the print collection of Cristopher Columbus’ son, Ferdinand Columbus (1488-1539): the catalogue for this collection, kept today in the Biblioteca Colombina in Seville, mentions fifty-four Italian prints kept as rotulos (rolls 60cm or more in length), among which an impression of Abraham’s Sacrifice from the first edition: “Rotulo de 4 pliegos de marca los dos largos en largo y los dos anchos en ancho es del sacrificio de Abrahan […] estampado en Venetia por Hugo de Carpi y Bernardino Benalio […] » [« A roll of four sheets of marca-size [over 45 cm in length; the next size up is the rotulo] two-by-two lengthways, it is the sacrifice of Abraham […] printed in Venice by Hugo da Carpi and Bernardino Benalio » ] (quoted in M. P. McDonald, The Print Collection of Ferdinand Columbus – 1488-1539 – A Renaissance Collector in Seville, volume 2, pp. 487-488, n°2686).

The high number of monumental Italian prints mentioned in this precious contemporary inventory is a testament to their success, especially in Venice, where city views, maps, current news topics, processions and devotional subjects were in high demand. David Rosand and Michelangelo Muraro explain that young Titian (ca. 1488-1576) was influenced by these monumental prints, engraved on copperplates or woodblocks, and contributed to this production himself. His most famous monumental print is Submersion of Pharaoh’s Army in the Red Sea, printed from twelve blocks and mentioned, along with Abraham’s Sacrifice, in Bernardino Benalio’s privilege in 1515.

Even though the name of Titian is engraved in the cartouche in impressions of the fifth, sixth and seventh editions of Abraham’s Sacrifice, the attribution of its drawing has long been a subject of some debate. Pierre-Jean Mariette attributed it to Domenico Campagnola (Abecedario, edited by Ph. de Chennevières and A. de Montaiglon, volume 6, pp. 310-311). David Rosand and Michelangelo Muraro, however, consider that Titian’s participation in this work is beyond doubt: “That Titian supplied the design for its major elements is convincingly attested by the quality of the design itself, especially of the landscape of the right half, and is documented by the existence of the magnificent study of trees in the Metropolitan Museum (T. 1943).” (Titian and the Venetian Woodcut, p. 59, see the description of the drawing on the MET’s website). They also mention that “A drawing for the group of Abraham and his two servants, varying somewhat from the final version is known through a small studio copy in the Louvre (T. 1956).” (ibid. p. 59, see the description of the drawing on the website of the Musée du Louvre). They maintain that Titian must have collaborated very actively in “a project that was evidently ambitious from its inception: all of the prints published by Benalio were monumental multi-block woodcuts and must have involved some fairly elaborate planning and coordination among designer, cutter and printer.” (p. 60). The late apparition of Titian’s name in the cartouche is what makes some doubt about the attribution, but, according to Rosand and Muraro, this in fact reflects a change in the taste of the public: “later buyers, representative of a new breed of connoisseurs and collectors that emerged in the course of the sixteenth century, were apparently less interested in acquiring a particular religious image than a work […] of the now universally acclaimed artist.” (p. 19). As for Jürgen Rapp, he insists that the drawing for Abraham’s Sacrifice could well be Titian’s very first work: according to him, Titian would have first sketched the upper right part, around 1505/1506, before expanding the work to the whole of the four plates.

References: David Rosand and Michelangelo Muraro: Titian and the Venetian Woodcut, 1976; Caroline Karpinski, ‘Some woodcuts after early designs of Titian’ in Zeitschrift für Kunstgeschichte 39 (1976), pp. 258-259 (note 4); Jan Johnson: « Ugo da Carpi’s Chiaroscuro Woodcuts », Il conoscitore di stampe, 1982, 57-58, vol. III and IV, pp. 2-87, revised version dated 2016 on; Jürgen Rapp, ‘Tizians frühestes Werk: der Großholzschnitt “Das Opfer Abrahams”’ in Pantheon 52 (1994), pp. 43-61; Mark P. McDonald, The print collection of Ferdinand Columbus (1488–1539): a Renaissance collector in Seville (London 2004); Larry Silver and Elizabeth Wyckoff (edited by): Grand Scale - Monumental Prints in the Age of Dürer and Titian, 2008.

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